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Legislature adjourned officially until Monday but really it’s until Tuesday

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on June 15, 2013 at 7:00 am | No Comments »
June 15, 2013 9:12 pm
Sen. Andy Hill
Sen. Andy Hill
Rep. Ross Hunter
Rep. Ross Hunter

After Thursday night’s marathon push to approve an estate tax and get it signed by Gov. Inslee before refunds checks went out in the morning, the Legislature is taking a bit of a breather. No further action took place Friday, and rank-and-file members in the House and Senate are getting the full weekend off.

Budget writers – led by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, and Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina – are expected to continue talking Saturday. There was talk of moving those conversations north from Olympia to King County in order to limit travel time for the principal parties.

The House and Senate are scheduled for floor sessions Monday, but the House is not asking its rank and file members to come in until Tuesday.

That is the same day the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council delivers its quarterly forecast on revenue expectations over the next two years, which Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom hopes will be up a bit from the March forecast and give lawmakers a bit more headroom.

Lawmaker also get their caseload forecast Tuesday showing the latest projected numbers for children in public schools, adults in prison, families on welfare rolls and numbers of disabled, poor or elderly people on medical-assistance programs. Both numbers should help lawmakers draw up a more accurate budget for the two-year period that begins July 1.

Failing to get a budget in the next week would trigger temporary layoff notices to thousands of state worker effective July 1.

The big divide in the Legislature is still between a Republican-dominated coalition opposed to new taxes in the Senate and a Democrat-controlled House that is chilly to the idea of policy bills the Senate wants in exchange for a revenue and budget deal. The House also is opposed to making further cuts in the safety net programs in order to boost K-12 funding.

One of the Senate’s proposed reforms is to let disabled workers as young as 40 accept buyouts of their workers compensation pensions in multiple installments (age 55 is the limit today, which resulted from a major reform package in 2011). Another is to cap non-education spending in state budgets to a 3 percent a year growth rate.

Ever since a Senate Majority Coalition of 23 Republicans and two renegade Democrats (including Tom and Sen. Tim Sheldon) seized control of the chamber in January, the group has been hostile to talk of new taxes, even fighting at one point to create new, large exemptions in the estate tax before changing course in the last week.

Senate Republicans relented late Thursday evening and allowed a vote to restore the Washington estate tax and answer a Supreme Court ruling that inadvertently created a loophole for married couples that have drawn up certain kinds of trusts. The Senate majority’s compromise with House Democrats included changes sought by the GOP to exempt some family-owned assets from estate taxes, and in order to keep the measure revenue-neutral they agreed to increase the four highest tax rates by 1 percent.

The House, meanwhile, approved a Republican-authored bill that changes the way hazardous substances taxes are used, and the bill got a strong bipartisan vote.

Whether either of those moves propel further action is hard to say, but Gov. Jay Inslee’s team welcomes the help if it happens.

“I would say what happened last night is encouraging because both sides compromised and in the end both sides seemed satisfied with the result,’’ Inslee spokesman David Postman said Friday. “That would be a little cause for optimism.’’

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